Even though we never really think of it this way, horses are a species that survives by getting a head start on predators. So, they need a pretty good sense of hearing. The fact that horses have survived all the way to modern times is testimony to their incredible hearing, which is considerably better than a human’s.
A great design
If you look at the shape of the horse’s ear, you can see that it’s built sort of like a funnel. With this design, the ear can capture sound in its outer part and channel it down into the ear canal. The broad outer part of the horse’s ear very adequately takes in the slightest sound in the horse’s environment.
Using very mobile ears, horses constantly monitor the world around them. Just imagine trying to pay complete attention to different sounds coming in to either ear at the same time. Impossible for a human, yet the horse does this on a steady basis. A horse can take in the sounds of a car driving by, children playing, a bird chirping and a human approaching, all at once, from different places in the environment. The horse then processes that information and makes split second decisions about whether to react — all while picking out the best blades of pasture grass or meandering down a rocky trail. The process really is mind-blowing.
A word of advice
Loud, unfamiliar noises can send a relaxed horse into a tizzy. On the other hand, a placid, reassuring sound can ease a horse’s worries. It’s amazing to see how a frightened horse can be comforted by a soft, gentle voice from a calm and confident human. Keep this fact in mind when handling your horse in a particularly noisy or frightening environment.